McHenry County Board passes ordinance waiving late fees, interest on first installment of property tax payments

McHenry County Board members voted unanimously during a Tuesday night emergency meeting to approve an ordinance waiving late fees and interest accruement for the first installment of this year's property taxes for 90 days.

The ordinance was proposed by county board Chairman Jack Franks as a way to provide economic relief to local businesses and homeowners amid the coronavirus pandemic, Franks said in a statement at the beginning of the meeting.

"Together, we're going to get through this and one way we're going to help is by passing a resolution tonight to give our taxpayers some measure of relief," he said. " ... Far too many of our taxpayers have been furloughed or laid off. As a county, we have the duty to help alleviate the burden on our already-burdened taxpayers."

The special meeting was called in an effort to pass the ordinance before the first installment of property tax bills are sent out. County board members joined the meeting remotely, with 21 of the 24 total board members in attendance.

It allows county residents to pay property taxes anytime before Sept. 15 - 90 days after the original deadline of June 15 - without penalty. The ordinance applies only to businesses and homeowners who pay property taxes directly to the county, the resolution stated.

About 67% of county residents use an escrow account to pay property taxes monthly along with their mortgage payment, according to McHenry County Treasurer Glenda Miller. These residents will not be effected by the new ordinance.

The ordinance also extends the deadline for senior residents to apply for a freeze on their property taxes, pushing the application due date back to Sept. 15.

In March, deadlines to file federal and state income taxes were pushed back to July, which Franks said helped him decide to make this proposal.

A statute within Illinois' property tax code gives county government the authority to waive late fees and interest payments if a disaster proclamation is made at the state or federal level, according to the General Assembly's website.

McHenry County made its disaster proclamation due to COVID-19 concerns March 11, according to the resolution. Gov. J.B. Pritzker made his own disaster proclamation shortly after on March 20.

The statute was brought up for discussion during Tuesday's board meeting by Michael Skala, county board member for District 5, who thought the tax code's language could leave room for legal challenges to the ordinance.

Skala deferred to Chief Norm Vinton of the McHenry County Civil Division who said a provision of the statute technically requires that counties set up an application process where property owners would have to provide proof their property has been adversely effected by some kind of disaster in order to qualify for waived late fees.

"Initially, I don't think anybody anticipated that there'd be something like the COVID-19 pandemic that would basically effect 100% of the population," Vinton said. " ... we believe that that provision would be a ludicrous provision to enforce to have 88,000 property owners have to submit an application to the county."

"I'm also not the least bit concerned about this withstanding a legal challenge," he added.

With that issue resolved, Franks initiated a voice vote and, with limited technical difficulties, all of the county's board members in attendance voiced their approval of the ordinance.

Franks also announced the county's regular committee meetings will resume next week and will be conducted virtually for the time being.

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